Thursday, April 16, 2009

On the streets of Philadelphia

Amman, Jordan (known as Philadelphia during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus)

We're baaaack...

Our vacation began with a prolonged dash through Dubai Airport to catch our flight at the absolute last second, the "Final Call!" echoing as we pounded our way to the terminal and flashing red on the screens (who knew arriving 2 hours before the flight would be cutting it extra close?!), then relaxing for a pleasant 2 1/2 hour flight to Amman, Jordan. Thomas loved having his own earphones and little table and meal. We ended up waiting a couple of hours in the terminal for our rental car to show up, no one's fault in particular, and befriending everybody from the coffee guy to the janitor while we waited and ate junk food.

It was not a luxury sedan. Admittedly I had asked Budget for the basic package, to Mike's dismay, but this was, well, not an exemplary example of the car species. It took some maneuvering to get the luggage into the limited trunk space, and we were off, in a puttering sort of way.

Our first impressions of Amman and Jordan were: major military presence, pine trees, and charming flocks of sheep and goats being herded along the freeway by shepherds. The trees made us homesick for the NW. The Humvees with machine guns mounted on their roofs had another effect entirely. Not in Kansas anymore. The city is a maze of pale colored buildings clustered along hillsides, beautifully green from the spring rains. Arabic everywhere, but thankfully English on the signs too. Those signs were another reminder as to exactly what neighborhood we were in:

We found our hotel, thanks to helpful directions from the Budget guy, a map, and Mike's impeccable sense of direction. Oh, and stopping and asking for more help and circling like sharks until we pinned it down. Our Amman home base was in the Embassy district of Jebel Amman and there was a police guard with a machine gun every half block or so, each guarding his own building, be it hotel or embassy. It made us edgy.
Walking though the metal detector we emerged gratefully into the outdoor garden restaurant. At the front desk they'd never heard of us before, despite my phone calls and having made reservations for the 3 times we intended to be in the city. Finally, two men working on the problem, they put down the new book and looked in the old book and found a name spelled almost like ours and a phone number that matched. After some debate they decided the chances of that being a coincidence were too great and allowed us to have a room.

We didn't even care too much that they didn't honor the price I'd been quoted (they determined that Thomas should have his own bed and I should say here they were quite correct once I saw the size of the beds), and we decided to appreciate the honor of having the World's Tiniest Shower (converted from a janitor's sink, one could barely turn around in it, and Mike got the quote of the day by calling it a scale reproduction) and we went downstairs and gratefully ordered lunch and an Amstel beer for Mike, (these locally brewed and bottled in HKJ "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan").

We decided to go out and explore the city, armed with our map and a sense of...OK, so actually exploring was a stupid idea. We instead got lost, but managed to find a city park that made us acutely aware of being "rich" Americans. I felt particularly ashamed of my new purse and $200 running shoes. The park was weedy and full of adults and children we guessed to be Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, graffiti, broken glass. Bethy and Thomas were happy to run around, though we decided, probably prudently, not to stay too long. Immediately one of the fathers engaged Mike in conversation as best as they could with his limited English and Mike's essentially nonexistent Arabic, and his daughter played with Bethy on a seesaw with no seats.

After that we decided to go get lost again and did so with great skill. We did manage to find the Roman Amphitheatre (actually, most of the roads lead there so it wasn't that much of a feat) where Bethy showed her appreciation for classical mosaic:

And then proceeded to scare the bejeesus out of us by climbing to the highest point of the amphitheatre and perform feats of jumping and wobbling that had everyone nearby concerned.

When Mike dragged her back down and we could all take a deep breath of relief, we tried out the acoustics by standing on the magic "x" in stone of the middle of the stage and speaking. It was staggering to hear your own voice amplified back to you. Those wacky Romans. They sure did know stuff.
Everyone we came into contact with wanted to know from where we were from and welcomed us to Jordan wholeheartedly. These were obviously good people.

A few more frustrating attempts at trying to match the map with any street sign and fruitless driving around in the frankly alarming traffic patterns that included pedestrians weaving into the street at any given point and drivers making 5 lanes out of three, though not committing to any one in particular, the pointy-hatted traffic police directing on major traffic circles but otherwise essentially chaos (and making Dubai look rational, for Pete's sake!) we tried to go back to the hotel and hunker down. Our hotel was located between the 3rd and 4th traffic circles, which Mike decided, after a particularly trying attempt at navigation, were designed by Dante and summarily renamed the Circles of Hell.
I insisted upon buying bottled water (and a sad excuse for dinner for the kids as well) at the neighborhood convenience store. We were too tired to attempt the restaurant again and I'd repeatedly read on websites how other tourists had stomach ailments though forced themselves to have a good time. There really is no forcing kids with stomach cramps to appreciate anything.

It was a major relief to finally find our way to our room, riding up in the little elevator that the kids liked, and to call it a day.

That night we dreamt of leaving the city and heading south into the country...


sherrip said...

That pic of Bethy is so funny! Sounds maddening navigating around, though.

Jean said...

When the guys at the hotel counter "lost" the old reservation book, did it not occur to you that they were holding out for baksheesh? Of course, they managed to get it anyway by refusing to honor the originally quoted room price. What adventures you are having!